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Grouper Brings the Buddy System to Dating

Snapshots from Grouper hang-outs, via the site’s Facebook page.

Online dating has become ubiquitous, but even so, I’m not completely sold on it.

Online dating does make sense for people like me who are busy and want to meet people beyond their social circles, but meeting up with virtual strangers can be scary. Which is why Grouper (JoinGrouper.com), a service that’s based in New York and recently opened to the New Orleans market, is a godsend: it sets up low-stakes group gatherings with people you aren’t likely to already know.

Grouper doesn’t bill itself as a dating site, rather a “social club,” but I assume it encourages any romantic connections. You join the site using your Facebook account and the site matches you with another member based on information from your profile, including age, education level and interests (it seems creepy, but the government has probably done worse). From there, the site – represented in my case by “Brittany from Grouper,” someone I’m not sure is human – arranges a meet-up between the matched members where each party is to bring two friends (“wingmen/women”). Grouper picks the bar and doesn’t reveal it until a day or two before the meet-up, and your dates are a mystery until you arrive – something that’s refreshing in the era of Google.

Each participant pays $20, which includes one round of drinks and some protection against no-shows.

Two days before my Grouper I received an email revealing the location: Phillips – a university area lounge I know well from my Loyola days. We arrived to the bar, which was empty except for three young men – those must be our dates! They were three MBA candidates; my group is of the more artistic variety, so on paper we were complete opposites. But we got along well, and I appreciated meeting people we probably wouldn’t encounter in our social lives.

Because there were six of us, there were opportunities to have side conversations that cut down on awkwardness. I was elated that there was none of that extensive talk about mutual friends that often happens after meeting people in New Orleans. It was quite possible that we had no friends in common, which is rare (another plus of Grouper using Facebook – it can eliminate matches you’re already friends with).

We probably won’t hang out again, but it was a fun night with kind, interesting people that we might have never met outside of this. It just goes to show that even in a small city, there’s a ton of fish in the sea.

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